Band director retires after 17 years of teaching at Freedom


Madison Sanders/Bulldog Beat

Band director Robert James poses with students before marching at the Kennywood parade in Aug. of 2019.

Ashley Imhoff, Features Editor

When band students hear their teacher’s name, “Mr. James,” quite a few things come to mind. The man who makes sarcastic jokes daily, the teacher who takes students to Sheetz after a long day of auditions and someone the students will miss once his retirement becomes a reality. 

On Jan. 22, band director Mr. Robert James announced his upcoming retirement and its effective date of March 9, 2021. James has taught music within the district for 17 years. His primary position consisted of teaching band to grades 5-8, being the assistant marching band director and directing the orchestra for high school musicals. After former director Keith “KK” Kovalic retired in 2019, there was an open spot for the high school band director job. James quickly picked up Kovalic’s position, taking over the secondary music department teaching grades 5-12 while also directing the marching band. 

James studied music education at Carnegie Mellon University and got one of his first teaching jobs at a small school in Virginia. After several years, he moved north to Beaver County, teaching at the South Side school district. It wasn’t until 2004 that James was hired at Freedom as the middle school band director.  

As James is a prized storyteller, he commonly reminisces on his experiences at these past districts. One concept that commonly arises in each story is how he challenged his students to do better, no matter if they were already strong players.  

After joining the band in 7th grade, senior Alex Bearer felt behind since most members joined in 5th. James worked closely with him to catch him up with the rest of the class. He referred him to a private teacher early on to heighten the talent he saw in him. Six years later, Bearer is the first Freedom student since 2017 to make the All-State Band, which is a superior accomplishment based on a strenuous audition.

“Mr. James was the start of my music career. He taught me all the basics and got me the private teacher I needed to become the best player I could become,” Bearer said. 

Students that have a niche for music tend to stick with it from grades 5-12. Those eight years typically consist of creating friendships, improving musicality and maturing as a member in the “band family.”   

“I have had the honor of getting to see all of my students grow up. It is a rare thing for a teacher to follow students for 8 years. It’s always an amazing process,” James said.

His role as a teacher did not end there, as he also acted as a friend to whoever may have needed one. If a student was in need of advice or just needed someone to talk to, James would stop to make time to do just that. 

“If I ever had nothing to do in [Personalized learning time], I would go to the band room and chat with Mr. James. He is just a nice person to always talk to about anything with. If something was ever going on outside of school and I went to talk to him about it, he would always give me the best advice and tell me things would get better,” sophomore Madison Sanders said. 

The decision to retire mid-year came from wanting to give his replacement time to warm up to the group before marching season begins, where things move at a fast, hectic pace. There has not been an official announcement of who will take his place after March 9. It is also indefinite if there will be a concert held in the spring or not. This is primarily due to the unknowingness of the pandemic, minimal preparation in person and the transition from James over to a new teacher.   

Despite having so many unknowns, students are excited to see where the band program goes and wish James well as retirement welcomes him. 

I will miss my students. The kids are the number one reason why I ever taught and they will be missed,” James said.